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Rounding the Swan

Seniors Not Acting Their Age

Two kayakers paddle along the eastern shore of Swans Island with Mount Desert Island in the background. (Photo courtesy of Ron Chase)

By Ron Chase

THE MAINE COAST – When my friend Ken Gordon contacted me about a sea kayak trip Amy Schrag was organizing circumnavigating Swans Island, I didn’t have time for the four day endeavor.   Since I’d never paddled around Swans Island, curiosity compelled me to research the online Maine Coastal Waters Forecast.  Stellar conditions were predicted throughout.  Although only three days remained before their departure and my schedule definitely wouldn’t accommodate the adventure, I requested a little more time to decide.

It’s amazing what can be accomplished when sufficiently motivated.  Tentative plans were cancelled.  Tax consulting deadlines extended.  Essential chores postponed.  Within twenty-four hours, I’d blocked off the requisite timeframe for the ambitious undertaking and was a bona fide member of a predominantly elderly foursome that included Bob Dawson.  Amy is young but the rest of us are over seventy and demonstrably ancient mariners.

I wasn’t part of the decision-making but whoever decided to launch from Seal Cove Boat Landing on Mount Desert Island made an excellent choice.  Ample parking and a convenient area to load and unload kayaks merits my coveted five star rating.  Situated several miles north of Swans Island, a collection of smaller islands are conveniently located about midway. 

Our tentative plan was to complete a six mile largely open crossing to a campsite on Pond Island and assess the situation.  Paddling conditions were superb on the traverse.  Arriving at Pond midafternoon, skies were clear and seas calm so the consensus was to continue an additional six miles to distant and remote Marshall Island.

Navigating past Sheep Island, we cruised south through a shallow channel between Opeechee and Black Islands.  Continuing adjacent the west side of Buckle Island, a senescent respite was required in a grassy cove near Swans Island Head.  Persisting around the head and along the scenic western shore of Swans Island, a narrow passage was negotiated to a gravel beach on Hat Island.  After riding a feisty tidal flow east of Hat, our weary band persevered south towards Long Point on the northern terminus of Marshall Island hoping the campsite was still available.  Luck was on our side arriving just prior to a large crew in a motorboat.

Exceptional conditions greeted us the following morning with sunny skies, light winds, and tranquil seas.   Taking advantage of the remarkable weather, the day began with a circumnavigation of rockbound Marshall Island stopping at a secluded beach in Sand Cove.  Embarking from prominent Devils Head, another lengthy unprotected traverse was accomplished.  Passing Brimstone, Green, and Scrag Islands, Big Baker Island positioned just south of Swans Island was our choice for a lunch spot.

A rising tide negated sometimes treacherous tidal currents traveling northeast along Swans Island to a campsite on West Sister Island.  After establishing camp, a unique hike was completed on impressive ledges that envelop the entire island.  Our plan was to spend two nights at West Sister as reconnoitering nearby consequential Long Island was on the agenda for the next day.  An ominous fog bank engulfed us just before retiring.

Lobster boats could be heard hauling traps in dense fog when we arose in the morning.  A worsening forecast called for fog throughout the day with strengthening winds from the southwest.   An excursion around rugged exposed Long Island lost its glitter so alternatives were contemplated.  Electing to journey north along the protected east shore of Swans Island to the campsite on Pond Island was our conservative choice. The selection was a wise one as concentrated fog dominated the Long Island area for the duration of the day.

Following a compass bearing in a virtual whiteout proceeding towards Ram Island, a combination of fog and penetrating sunshine created a surreal optical illusion as we approached the tiny atoll just east of Swans Island.  The diminutive islet appeared to be a snow-capped mountain range.  Persisting along the picturesque northeast shore of Swans Island to North Point, the fog gradually lifted. Sweltering heat and humidity were endured while island hopping northwesterly to our destination.

The campsite on Pond Island was exceptional and a refreshing breeze provided for a comfortable late afternoon.  While others explored, a nap was this old man’s choice. The ubiquitous fog rolled in at dusk.

Fog lingered through the night saturating tents and gear.  Departing in the misty haze, the murky conditions diminished as we rounded the northwestern extremity of Pond.  Partial visibility and glassy seas highlighted the six-mile crossing to Seal Cove.  Despite the foggy complications, ours had been a memorable voyage in one Maine’s most scenic coastal regions.

Ron Chase is a resident of Topsham and the author of “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals – New England”. Visit his website at or he can be reached at

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